Recent preliminary research may offer some comfort to the many vaccinated Americans who discovered Omicron last winter. A pair of studies suggest that vaccinated people who caught the variant developed a strong and diverse immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in general, more than vaccinated and boosted people or people who were only infected. by Omicron. The results could also indicate that an updated booster, perhaps specific to Omicron, will be more effective in providing longer-term immunity in the future.
The results come from two preprint articles published on the bioRxiv website in April and May: a researchers from the University of Washington and the other researchers from BioNTech, the company that, together with Moderna, developed the FDA-approved Spikevax covid-19 vaccine.
The studies collected blood samples from different patient groups and looked for biomarkers of coronavirus immunity, namely virus-specific antibodies and immune cells. These groups included people infected with Omicron who had already received two or three doses of the vaccine; vaccinated/boosted people who had caught the original virus or the Delta variant; vaccinated/boosted people who had no infection; and unvaccinated people who had freshly taken Omicron.
Overall, people vaccinated with Omicron seemed to have the strongest antibodies, not just against Omicron, but to the original SARS and SARS-CoV-2 virus and variants like Delta. The same pattern was observed with the memory B cells of these individuals, the cells responsible for producing new antibodies in response to a familiar germ. However, unvaccinated people who were only infected with Omicron did not develop the same type of broad immune response.
The Washington study also found neutralizing antibodies in the noses of those infected and vaccinated with Omicron, which may provide a more resilient defense against future infections. And they identified an antibody that appeared to be particularly potent against various strains of the virus, which may warrant further study as a potential treatment that can be replicated in the laboratory.
The findings of both papers have yet to go through formal peer review, so they should be viewed with added caution. But they do line up with past research suggesting that people with hybrid immunity to the coronavirus—the result of being vaccinated and infected, in either order—can promote a broader immune response, particularly when people are infected by different variants. However, other research has found that unvaccinated people infected with Omicron do not appear to develop long-lasting protection against other variants of the virus.
At the very least, the new findings suggest that vaccinated people who caught Omicron should be well protected, at least for now. In the United States, this is a large sample size, with one study Estimate as much like three-American quarterbacks may have caught it this winter. And because Omicron is so evolutionarily distinct from other lineages of the virus, it’s also possible that an updated booster specific to it could provide a more diverse immune response than the currently available booster, which is still strain-matched. original of the virus.
“It indicates that we are at the point where we could consider having a different vaccine to stimulate people,” said David Veesler, assistant professor at the University of Washington and principal investigator of the Washington study. Told Bloomberg News.
Of course, the virus does not stand still. There are already other lineages related to Omicron, some of which may be able escape immunity even in people vaccinated and infected with Omicron. And the continuing evolution of the virus may very well require regular boosters or different vaccine strategies, such as nasal spraysto effectively prevent large waves of disease in the future.
But even if we can develop these updated vaccines efficiently enough, there are still other challenges to overcome. Booster vaccination rates in the United States are well below rates seen in similar countries and funding shortages can mean that all vaccines available this year may have to be rationed to the most high-risk Americans.
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